27 November 2017

Known World Magic Items: Avrine's Lockpicks

Avrine's Lockpicks
New Magic Item

Avrine Nimblefoot is a legendary figure among the folk of the Five Shires and western Karameikos, especially the Hin. She lived about 50 years ago, and was a daring swashbuckler of a lass, living a life of wild adventures and daring deeds. Among the stories told about her are the tale of how she retrieved the jeweled crown of Penhaligon from a bugbear bandit who accosted the Baron on the Road on a trip to Specularum for a tourney, and a wild yarn about a game of dice with the gods which lasted the entire harvestfest holiday week and earned Avrine the enchanted lockpicks that now bear her name when she tricked the god into admitting defeat (even though he was obviously winning, the storytellers add with a knowing wink and grin).

Avrine's lockpicks are a set of exquisitely crafted thieves tools made of platinum decorated with diamonds of various colors. When used by a non-thief, they grant the user the ability to Open Locks af if he were a thief of 1/2 his current level. Example: Giano is a 4th level halfling. When using the lockpicks, he can open locks as if he were a 2nd level thief.

In the hands of a thief, they are even more powerful, granting a bonus of +3 effective class levels when calculating the Open Locks chance on the tables. For example, Magwell, a 7th level thief, steals the lockpicks and then tries to unlock a door with them. Using the lockpicks, he has the Open Locks chance of a 10th level thief!

The lockpicks are a unique item, and worth about 5000 gold pieces if sold.

25 November 2017

Known World Magic Items: Saudamard's Club

Saudamard was a strange and unique hero, an orphaned Hin (the name halflings use for themselves) raised by animals in the wilderness. Saudamard himself claimed that he was raised in a nest of rust monsters in the Cruth mountains, but for the majority of his life, this was not taken seriously.

Saudamard didn't take offense, and though he remained wild and uncouth for a Hin, he gained some popularity among the locals as a vigilante of the backroads, sometimes showing up to aid travelers beset by bandits or monsters.

When the Hin of the Shires began to resist the abuses of the Black Eagle barony, a corrupt fief of Karameikos, Saudamard was in the thick of things, wearing his usual battle worn and trail dusty leather armor, but carrying only a simple club. A fitting end to a people's hero, Saudamard fell a the battle that freed a band of his kin from the atrocities of their wicked neighbor, but odd stories began to spread, tales that during the battle, enemies hit by Saudamard's club saw their armor and swords crumble apart into ruin, and were forced to fight defenseless and without arms or flee the field. Dismissed at first, the tales became so common and popular that Saudamard's old stories of being raised by the rust monsters started to be taken seriously.

Saudamard's Club appears as a well made but battle worn club, about 2 feet in length, with the handle wrapped in stout leather and stone rings, etched with tribal art style depictions of rust monsters, where a normal club might have rings of metal.

The Club is foremost a Club +1, granting its bonus to the wielder's hit and damage rolls. In addition, any successful hit on non-magical metal (including armor, weapons, etc) causes the target to Save vs. Paralysis or have that metal item immediately crumble away into rusty dust. Unlike a real rust monster, the club has no affect on magical metal.

Due to the chaotic bumping and jostling of combat, there is a 5% chance per combat (not per attack) encounter of the wielder accidentally striking his own armor or possessions, invoking the club's power.

This flaw is realized by the weapon's owners rather quickly, and is the reason none have kept the club very long since Saudamard's death. It might currently be found around the Five Shires or Karameikos, abandoned or sold by its last owner.

23 November 2017

Known World Magic Items: Culinary Magic

I always like fun and interesting new magic for the game, things the players least expect. I had some notes on magical food concoctions in my notes, and remembered them while reading about the Chef class in an old issue of Polyhedron magazine. I decided to type up my notes, and convert some of the Chef magic stuff from AD&D to Classic D&D, here's what i came up with.

Miija's Gingersnaps (75 gp for 6 cookies)
The crunchy and tasty cookies, invented by the famous (in the Five Shires, at least) Hin baker Miija Copperkettle, grant the eater the effects of a Haste spell for 1d4 rounds. Attempting to eat more than one per day, however, will cause the eater painful heartburn and debilitating cramps, inflicting 1d4 points of damage that can only be cured by a full night's rest (not even magical healing spells will help).

Miija's Bayberry Tea (10 gp per cup)
This rather bitter tasting brew, common among the woodland folk of Alfheim, acts as a mild healing draught and a full cup will heal 1d4 hp of damage. Drinking a full pot (4 cups) will either heal 4d4 hp of damage, or cure any single non-magical disease or posion.

Miija's Peculiar Pepper Sauce (100gp for one bottle, 6 chugs)
Another invention of Miija Copperkettle, this extremely hot blend of chili peppers from around the islands of the Five Shires and Ierendi allows anyone taking a gulp of it to spit forth a gout of flame with a 15 foot range and causing 1d6 points of damage to anything it hits.
The sauce burns its drinker as well, however, causing 1d2 points of damage for every gulp taken. In addition, for each gulp taken beyond the first each day, the drinker must make a Save vs Death with a cumulative -1 penalty or die from choking.

Miija's Basil Cakes (10gp for one tart)
These vile tasting herbal tarts require a successful CON check to eat without gagging and vomiting, but if kept down, they guarantee  success on any one Save vs Petrification within the next 24 hours.

Miija's Elven Carrot Cake (50gp for one cake, 4 slices)
Eating a slice of this sweet treat grants the eater infravision with a 10 foot range for one hour. Repeated consumption of the cake the same day has no effect.

Miija's Amazing Applesauce (30gp for a 12oz jar)
This thick, sweet and slightly chunky apple sauce is not only delicious, it's extremely filling and nourishing. One 12 oz. jarserves as an entire week's worth of rations.

Miija's Potent Peas (5gp for 12 peas)
Three of these dried peas will create an entire serving of a nourishing, if rather bland tasting, pea soup when placed in a bowl with hot water. One serving satisfies a humanoid of man size or smaller for one day.

Miija's Regiberry Tea (20gp per vial, 3 sips)
Three of these dried peas will create an entire serving of a nourishing, if rather bland tasting, pea soup when placed in a bowl with hot water. One serving satisfies a humanoid of man size or smaller for one day.

Miija Copperkettle owns and runs a small bakery in Leafkindle, where these items (including the two druidic recipes) may be purchased, but she has also sold her recipes to other bakers who promise not to open a competing shop in Leafkindle, so the DM can have the items turn up at a market or bakery just about anywhere.

Miija is also constantly on the look out for new and rare ingredients for her culinary creations, and may serve as a minor patron for PCs looking for work.

21 November 2017

Known World Magic Items: Poor Man's Feast

Whatever poor soul first kept his share of the day's hunt too close to the campfire and happily discovered that putting a char to a piece of meat vastly improves its taste is sadly lost to the fog of prehistory, but in the Shirelands, every Hin worth his or her toehair knows the name Blossom Goldenspoon.

Long ago, in the days when the Hin first learned to tend their fields and keep pantries, cooking became the high art that it is today. One of the earliest, and still most revered Hin cooks of this time was Blossom Goldenspoon. A creative genious in her kitchen, Blossom is still credited with first creating most of the foundations of every Hin's recipe collection, and in fact, telling a Hin that her dish "could've come straight from Blossom's hearth" is considered a compliment of the highest order.

With success often comes the envy of others, and such was the case for Blossom. Many of her peers sought to outdo her skill, and at least one stooped to magical cheating to help, but as the Hin like to say "ye eat what ye cook"...

Cotter Bramblepatch was a well intentioned apprentice cook, at first desiring only to win the praise of his clan by feeding them the best meals he could muster, but he had the misfortune of living in the same town as Blossom, and grew weary of hearing his dishes compared to hers, never favorably, mind you. Frustrated, he traveled east, to visit the Traladara folk and hoped to learn new culinary secrets that would impress his kinfolk.

Cotter was quickly dismayed at the fact that Human cookery was far inferior to that of the Hin. He had almost given up on his quest when he met a a young Traladaran magic user who promised to help him achieve his goal in exchange for 10 years of service as the magician's personal cook. You see, although Cotter's skills in the kitchen didn't wow his peers, to a human, his dishes were divine. He faithfully completed his decade of service, at the end of which, his master presented him with a fine silver soup bowl, "Cotter, my lad" the old magician said, "any you serve from this vessel will find it the grandest meal they've ever eaten." Cotter took the bowl skeptically and returned home to the Shires.

The grandest meals ever, indeed. Hin flocked from miles around to have a taste from the table of Cotter Bramblepatch! Word around Eastshire, and beyond, spoke of meals fit for the Immortals themselves, selflessly offered to any who came asking. Cotter reveled in his newfound fame.

Cotter's soup bowl, enchanted by his Traladaran friend, whose name is not known in these tales, did exactly as promised, every meal served from it was thought to be the finest that diner had ever tasted! So great was its power that even burnt, spoiled and rotten dishes were greedily slurped up, to the very last drop or scrap. The bowl's power proved to be Cotter's downfall in the end.

Cotter was very generous, far preferring fame and praise to coin, but after a while, his money purse ran low and he could no longer afford fresh, wholesome ingredients for his recipes. You probably see the bowl's folly already. Although a dish served from it tastes like the finest fare one has ever eaten, the actual quality of the food is not affected at all. Thus, a meal that is burnt, undercooked, spoiled, or even poisoned will still cause heartburn, sickness or even death to those consuming such tainted fare.

Thus it was that Cotter's peers began to question his methods, despite enjoying his meals as usual, and continuing to praise his skill, quiet doubts began to accompany the cramps and achy bellies that were sure to follow. Colter himself eventually used the bowl to liven up some improperly preserved salted pork loin one lonely and hungry afternoon, and lacking a competent healer nearby, died from food poisoning the very next day.

Poor Man's Feast (aka Cotter's Bowl)
Cotter's bowl is a footed soup bowl crafted from fine silver beaten into a pattern of flowers and knotwork. The dish always feels comfortably warm to the touch, with a faint aroma that most who have examined it describe as fondly reminiscent of "mum's own kitchen".

Any food or drink placed into the dish and then served will taste to those eating or drinking like the single greatest thing they've ever had the luck to experience. Even the coldest campfire gruel will seem to be a meal fit for a king, and the foul tastes of minor spoilage, weevil infestations and the like will become undetectable.

The downside of using the bowl is obvious from Cotter's tale. Poisons in the food or drink in the bowl become extremely difficult to detect, gaining a 50% chance (1 or 2 on a d4 roll) of evading notice by magics intended to detect poison.

Also, because the user is so fooled by the pleasant taste of the fare from the bowl, he will tend to gobble or slurp up the very last bit, making it more difficult to avoid the ill effects of a poison one would normally spit out due to the foul taste. All creatures poisoned by fare from the bowl receive a -2 penalty to their saving throw against that poison.

19 November 2017

Known World Magic Items: Druid's Honey Mead

Druid's Honey Mead

The druids long ago mastered the techniques of fermenting honey from beehives into a potent and tasty beverage that is popular across the known world even today. Though the meads vary a little from region to region, the general theme is the same. Honey is harvested and prepared in the autumn and allowed to ferment over the winter, reaching maturity in early spring and brought out as part of the spring planting festivals. For most creatures drinking this beverage, it is simply a thirst quenching and slightly intoxicating elixir.

For the druids and their followers, however, there is a potent effect to be gained by drinking these meads during spring celebrations as part of their festivities. In game terms, any character who raises a toast to the gods of nature before consuming their mug of ale will be healed as if they had imbibed a lessened strength Potion of Healing, recovering 1d4 points of damage. This benefit may only be gained once per day, and may only be used during relatively calm, quiet moments of introspect and piety, thus the drinking of honey mead during battle will have no beneficial effects.

It is important to point out that although the druids know of this blessing from their gods, they do not explain it to persons buying or trading the mead from them. They prefer that people discover the gods' gift through an honest and sincere display of faith and respect, which in many cultures of the known world is expressed in the form of a toast or dedication of libations to the nobles and deities important to the local people.

17 November 2017

Known World Magic Items: Mask of the Eagle's Talons

Mask of the Eagle's Talons

The Eagle's Talons are an old, well established thieving guild based in Specularum, though the exact location of their guildhouse is a closely kept secret. Despite many attempts, including recent ones by Duke Stefan, the secrets of the guild, and the identity of its headquarters remains unknown to most of the city's residents.

Since most of the guild's activities take place at night, and their membership is primarily human, vision has long been a problem for the Talons, who like most thieves abhor the thought of needing to carry a torch or lantern along with them while they work. To resolve that dilemma, the guild has long secretly employed the services of Specularum's Magic User's guild to create these magical masks, which grant them a limited ability to see in the dark like their demihuman peers.

These Masks are lightweight half-masks, made from fine black leather, shaped to resemble the face of an eagle. An adjustable buckle on the rear of the mask allows it to fit any wearer of Hin to Human size. The masks are stylish enough to be worn around at night without causing one to look out of place, but doing so in Specularum is risky, since most of the city watch instantly recognize one as the mark of a Eagle's Talon thief.

When worn, the masks grant their wearer Infravision to a range of 30 feet. If worn by a creature that already has natural infravision, they instead bestow a bonus 15 foot range to the existing Infravision. Magical Infravision, from any other source, is negated for the duration that the mask is worn, providing only the mask's 30 foot infravision range, though the magical Infravision will return upon removing the mask, unless its duration has expired, of course.

The Masks are fairly rare outside of Specularum, and are worth about 1,500 gp on the black market. Any non-guild member who is caught with one of the Masks is usually beaten severely and robbed of it, with a stern warning about the consequences of opposing the Eagle's Talons. Repeat offenders will be subject to attempts by the guild to kill them.

The wearing of festive masks by nobles (and wannabe nobles) while socializing is considered a statement of style in Specularum, despite the fact that the city isn't really all that cultured, compared to the wealthy cities of Thyatis, but some of the petty nobles there like to act fancified, so in the nicer parts of town, wearing masks out at night is considered acceptable.

04 November 2017

Location of Bywater on Karameikos Maps

I recently noticed, after reading The Tainted Sword (Penhaligon trilogy, book 1) that some of the maps on Pandius.com show the wrong location for the town of Bywater, in Karameikos. The top map is a quick and dirty scan (I'm not going to cut apart my book for a proper flatbed scan, sorry) from that novel, and the one below it is from the Escape from Thunder Rift adventure module. Hope this sets people straight.

03 November 2017

Karameikos: the "Basics"

When starting a new Mystara campaign, Karameikos tends to be my usual starting point, mainly because it is the most standard Euro-Medieval fantasy of the various regions of the Known World that still has a human focus. I also love using Humans and Halflings as the main 'civilized' folk of the campaign, and having the Hin of the Five Shires right next door is a bonus too. The only problem with Karameikos being the most developed of the regions of Mystara is that some later material conflicts a little with early stuff, and to me, the region loses it's wild and unexplored allure.

With that in mind, I've decided to strip the Grand Duchy (It's not a kingdom!) back to it's original presentation, then examine the later material and suggest some of my own ideas for using it in a campaign.

We'll start with module X1: The Isle of Dread. Along with what is essentially a slightly expanded version of the Expert Rule Book's map of the Known World and nearby island chains, a brief paragraph summary of each nation and region is included. For Karameikos, it has this to say:
Grand Duchy of Karameikos. This part of the continent is a wild and unsettled land claimed by Duke Stephan Karameikos. In reality, little of the land is under the duke's control. Large areas are overrun with monsters and hostile humanoids.
Following the brief "gazetteer" of the Known World, there are a few brief notes on climate and weather. Given Karameikos' relative position to the countries mentioned, I think it is safe to assume the statements about Thyatis and Darokin would apply to the Grand Duchy as well. I've bolded the relevant information for reference.
Weather & Climate
The general weather patterns of this part of the continent move from west to east. Hence, much rain falls on the western edge of the Altan Tepe mountains, while little or none falls on the Alasiyan desert. The warm offshore currents near Thyatis and Minrothad modify the weather somewhat in the south, making the climate there similar to the Mediterranean.

The southern farm lands are extremely fertile, due to a thick layer of rich ash from the ancient volcanic hills. The farmers here have discovered better ways to grow most crops. The heavily irrigated and terraced gardens of the southern farmlands produce more food than any other area on the map.(1)

The climate in the Thanegioth Archipelago is tropical, similar to the Pacific South Seas islands (Oceania) and the Caribbean. The climate south of the Cruth mountains (running west to east) is moist and temperate, with mild winters. The climate of Darokin and Glantri is warm and sunny, similar to that of southern France. The climate of the Ethengar steppes is mild in the summer, but cold and bleak in the winter; like the Russian steppes around the Black Sea. The climate of the northeastern coast is wet and mostly overcast, similar to that of Denmark.
(1) I make the assumption that in Karameikos, the strip of coastal lands, one or two hexes wide on the X1 and Expert Set continental maps, where there are no forest map icons, is mostly rolling plains, small hills and grassland, with farmsteads and ranches scattered about, most notably near the cities of Specularum, Luln and Kelvin, with a smaller farming community around Threshold, as shown on maps of that city, found elsewhere.

All in all, this bare bones bit of information makes Karameikos sound like a great locale for adventures using the "standard" Euro-fantasy medieval to early renaissance D&D genre. Consider also the fact that every major terrain type is present in, or fairly close to, the Grand Duchy. Forest, plains, coastlines and mountains abound, and snowy, wintry locales can surely be found in the heights of the Cruth mountains. The vast deserts of Ylaruam are a short trek to the northeast, while the murky depths of the Malpheggi swamp lie just west of the neighboring Five Shires. With a major port such as Specularum, the tropical islands are within easy reach as well.

Speaking of the Five Shires, it's interesting that the homelands of the major Demihuman races are all close by as well. The Hin (Halflings) are direct neighbors to the west, while the Elves of Alfheim and Dwarves of Rockhome are both a short trip (across the neighboring human realm of Darokin's rather unsettled eastern wilderness) to the north. This makes it quite easy to justify having all four of the standard PC races present in the towns of the Grand Duchy, rather than force the players and DM to concoct rambling backstories to explain what a particular character is doing there.

The Expert sets (both Dave Cook's and Frank Mentzer's editions) have some more detailed information on Karameikos and the city of Threshold, but I want to take this examination of the Karameikos subsetting one step at a time and not get mired in referencing too many sources in each post, so we'll take a look at those next time. Even if you stick with what we have so far from X1's map and map key notes, you could easily start to build a campaign, so to put it bluntly, everything else is basically just fluff anyway.

That's the foundation for our campaign setting with the bare basics found in the Isle of Dread adventure module. Now it's time to poke around the various products that lead up to Gazetteer1: The Grand Duchy of Karameikos, the first stand alone sourcebook (meaning, that's all it is, it's not otherwise a rulebook or adventure that happens to have setting info within) for the Known World campaign setting.

The logical place to look first is the actual D&D rulebooks, so that's where we'll go next.

The first two Basic Sets (Eric Holmes' and Tom Moldvay's editions) contain no reference at all to the Known World. They arguably contain no mention of a setting as we define it now at all, beyond the scope of "There's this town called Portown and there's a dungeon nearby" and "There's a haunted ruined tower over there outside of town".

The sample Group Dungeon in the DM's book from Frank Mentzer's Basic Set is accepted now to be set in Karameikos, in the town of Threshold and the nearby ruins, but a careful reading of the rule book on simply its own content reveals no such tie to the setting. The PCs are in a town with a tavern called the Gold Dragon, there's a ruin called Mystamere Castle nearby where the evil icky-bad villain Bargle is hiding out. That's it.

The Rules Cyclopedia contains a sort of mini-primer on the Mystara campaign world, published after the bulk of the Known World Gazetteers and at roughly the same time as the setting was being prepared for conversion into the AD&D 2nd edition world of Mystara. The various "Basic Sets" that followed the RC return to the early trend of not assuming or describing any larger setting for their sample dungeon.

That brings us to the Expert Sets. Starting with Dave Cook's edition. The sample wilderness key and map section has some information.
...the map shows a section of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. The Duchy is a large tract of wilderness and unsettled land claimed by Duke Stefan Karameikos the Third. Although he claims control of a large area of land on paper, large portions of it are held by humanoids and monsters. The two main settled areas are the coast near the main city of Specularum and the Black Eagle Barony on the Gulf of Halag.
Two new bits here. First, Duke Stefan is "the third". This part of his title was not mentioned in the Isle of Dread material. Second is the introduction of the Black Eagle Barony and the naming of the large bay/gulf between Karameikos and the Five Shires as the Gulf of Halag.
The weather throughout the area represented on this map is generally temperate and mild with short winters of little or no snowfall and long summers. Rainfall is ample but not heavy and easterly winds blow cool breezes from over the sea.

The mountain range running along the north edge of the map is known by different names by the peoples of the territory including the Black Peaks, the Cruth Mountains, or The Steach. The two large river systems that provide drainage from the area are left for the DM to name.

I really like that second part. While canon, including the maps from Isle of Dread, calls those peaks the Cruth Mountains, the locals also call them the Black Peaks or The Steach. These are great imagination joggers for a DM wanting to expand things. What evils lurk in the mountains that gave rise to these other names?
Due to the climate, large sections of this map are heavily forested. Humans engage in lumber operations near the edges of the forests, but are loathe to venture too deeply without good cause. Timber, both hardwood and softwood, is a prime resource of the area, and is either exported or used to build ships in the shipyards of the port of Specularum.
Again, the hint of mystery and danger lurking in the depths of the forests. While the map shows some of the major monster types to be found in various regions of Karameikos' forests, literally anything could be waiting for those adventurers brave or foolish enough to wander off the loggers' trails.
Specularum - Originally a trading port founded when this area was first explored, Specularum has become the major city of the Grand Duchy of Karameikos. Approximately 5,000 people live in or immediately around the city. The Duke maintains a standing force of 500 troops and may raise an army of 5,000 from the surrounding countryside in times of war. A small fleet of warships is maintained in the harbor.

The city is primarily noted for its excellent harbor facilities and shipyards. Walled on the landward side, the city is also protected by 2 breakwaters that extend into the harbor, restricting passage to a narrow entrance. Overlooking the harbor is the Duke's castle, providing ample defense of the harbor.
Without dictating too much of the local flavor, this gives us a general idea of what Specularum is all about. It's a maritime trading city with a strong military presence. Safe and secure. I quibble with the low population a little, but this is one case where later material (the Karameikos Gaz, in fact) fixes that, bumping it up to 50,000.
Black Eagle Barony - This area of the Duchy has been given as a fiefdom to Baron Ludwig "Black Eagle" von Hendriks. The central town is Fort Doom, a forbidding structure. It is rumored to have dungeons filled with those who have displeased the Baron, an extremely cruel and unpopular man. The Baron may have possible connections with evil slavers and disreputable mercenaries. The Baron maintains a garrison of 200 troops, using them freely to quell dissent and cruch attacking non-humans.
Again, without force feeding us a bunch of detail, this paragraph manages to conjure up quite a few ideas for adventure. Rescuing allies from the Baron's dungeons, fighting off the slavers (or being captured by them and forced to escape!), run ins with corrupt troops or mercenaries. Fun stuff.
Luln - Composed primarily of persons who have fled Black Eagle Barony, merchants who have come to trade with the Baron, and some non-humans who have left the wilderness, Luln is a base town for adventurers exploring the Haunted Keep, also called Koriszegy Keep, and the surrounding land. Somewhat lawless and open, the town can provide most of the basic needs to any group of adventurers. The town is poorly defended, relying on the goodwill and capabilities of both the Baron and the Duke for its defense. Approximately 500 people live in the town.
Although later material devoted to Karameikos shifted the presumed base of operations of the PCs to Threshold, this entry shows that Luln is an ideal spot to center a campaign around. Lots of adventure opportunities abound nearby, and the possibility of local adventurers being called upon to defend the town until reinforcements from the Baron or Duke arrive.

The text goes on to add a little detail on the gnomes of the Duchy, including a small sample dungeon based in a typical gnome stronghold. This stuff isn't especially relevant to a larger examination of the setting, so I'm not going to reprint it here.

Lastly, a fairly small scale,  detail map of Karameikos is included. The most useful part of this map are tags detailing what types of monsters are found in the various regions. The area that they chose to place the keep on the borderlands module in is infested with Frost Giants! Watch out!

01 November 2017

The Hin (Halfling) Sneak, an optional PC Thief variant.

Here it is, The Hin Sneak, an optional halfling "thief" class for Classic D&D!

The Hin Sneak (150kb PDF)

This file is provided for your private use. Please do not redistribute it without discussing it with me beforehand. Thanks!